by DWAYNE COLBERT
“So, you boys know what’s going on in the news, right? No? Uh, well… go back outside and play then.”
was me in the summer of 2014 trying to tell my sons about the killing of teenager Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed, by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson, who is white. I failed miserably in my attempt to equip them, as young black boys, with some harsh truths about the racial divide in American society, so that they wouldn’t end up lying dead in the street, like what happened to Mike Brown. That is the fear that African American parents uniquely share: that at some point you will worry about your child surviving an interaction with the police. There is no greater concern than life and death. On that day, I just couldn’t squash the childish exuberance I saw in my boys’ eyes as I was beginning to tell them about what some were calling murder, while others were calling a justified response. So instead of shaving off some of their childhood with fear-inducing examples of how people who look like them die more often than anyone else in this country at the hands of those sworn to protect them, I wrote a musical comedy that I think explains it way better than I could face-to-face.
Writing this musical did get us talking. It has everyone who sees it talking.
The Second City will always be known for social and political satire. From the early revue shows featuring John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Gilda Radner, to more recent ones from Jack McBrayer, Chris Farley, Mike Myers, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey, The Second City has never shied away from tackling hot-button issues. Afros & Ass Whoopins is no exception. Art has always been the gateway to saying what needs to be said as a path to social progress. Today’s social/political climate has many of us feeling like our voices are once again being drowned out. But in tumultuous times, art will always give a voice to the voiceless. As a father, as an artist, and most importantly, as an African American, I feel a sense of duty to create the kind of art that allows us to speak as a people to those who might not otherwise hear us by other means.
When I told a few of my friends in the comedy community that I was writing this piece, and that it was a musical, I kept getting pointed in the direction of Hughie Stone Fish. Hughie was a new Musical Director at Second City at the time whom everyone kept telling me was really talented, and really cool. That they all kept including the “really cool” part specifically really intrigued me, so I sought him out. I told him my loose idea at that time, and he was immediately onboard and became my partner in shaping Afros & Ass Whoopins into a bona fide musical.
The improv, writing and directing training I got at Second City Hollywood has been invaluable to this piece. I used the Second City process of writing sketch by using improvisation, but this time I used it on an already-written piece that has way more of a narrative spine than traditional sketch comedy. I was able to do this because the entire cast is comprised of improvisers — most of them having trained at The Second City — whom I encouraged to improvise, and then we would re-improvise some story beats and dialogue until we truly all found this piece together.
Of course, we hope the show makes you laugh, but more importantly, we hope you walk away with a discussion. I have a feeling you will.
NOW PLAYING: AFROS & ASS WHOOPINS, through April 22 (Fridays at 8 PM) at Second City Hollywood.
Everyone is tired of talking about race and the police, we are too, so we decided to sing about it instead! This original musical comedy is the story of a son who is at odds with his father’s old-world views. Cop sticks, and afro picks, come get your ass whooped!